Harvard University Admission Counselors

A Guide to the Harvard Admissions Process - Essays, Interviews & Deadlines

Harvard University Admissions Counselor

What is Harvard Looking For?

So you have decided that you want to attend a small Ivy League school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Simply put, Harvard looks for leaders and world-beaters.

Harvard seeks out highly talented and driven self-starters who will be leaders in their fields, whether it be in the academic or business realm.

Harvard rates every applicant in two separate areas on a 1 to 6 scale (1 being the highest and 6 being the lowest): (1) Academic Rating and (2) Personal Rating.

Academic rating

Harvard, like all Ivy League schools, looks for students who love learning for the sake of learning.

An applicant with the highest Academic Rating of 1 out of 6 at Harvard would have these credentials:
  • Top 1-2% of high school class
  • Most challenging courseload of AP courses
  • SAT/ACT scores in the 99th percentile
  • Glowing letters of recommendation indicating that student is best out of applicants from past several years from his/her high school
  • Intense love of learning, as evidenced by academic research outside the classroom with a college professor leading to publication in a journal
  • Potential to be leader in academic field in future
An applicant with an Academic Rating of 3 out of 6 at Harvard would have these credentials:
  • Top 5% of high school class
  • Most challenging courseload of AP courses
  • SAT/ACT scores above the 95th percentile
  • Strong but unexceptional letters of recommendation
  • Lacking the intense love of learning of other students, with some independent reading outside the classroom but no published research with a college professor
  • Driven to achieve by competition more so than by a true love of learning

Personal rating

Harvard, like all Ivy League schools, looks for students who are the best at one thing and not for students who are well-rounded.


Examples of applicants with the highest Personal Rating of 1 out of 6 at Harvard would be:
  • Published author
  • Intel STS Finalist (top 40 in country)
  • Olympic medalist
  • Soloist at Carnegie Hall
  • US Math Olympiad Qualifier (USAMO)
  • Awards at the national level
  • Patent pending (without parental involvement)
Examples of applicants with a Personal Rating of 3 out of 6 at Harvard would be:
  • Awards at the regional level
  • Significant commitment at a high level to a few activities
  • Student Body President
  • All-State Orchestra
  • Captain of a varsity sports team
  • Nationally ranked debater
  • Well-rounded and involved but not the most passionate about anything

Harvard Recommendation Letter

At Harvard, each recommendation letter is weighed individually and given a separate score. Because the applicant pool is so stellar at Harvard with an overflow of people who have the highest academic qualifications, recommendation letters at Harvard are critical to distinguish perfect students who are good from perfect students who are great.

Harvard looks closely for evidence of intellectual vitality, leadership, and the potential for contribution in the recommendation letters. In addition, everyone’s file goes to the admissions committee for a vote.

Harvard Supplemental Essays

Solomon Admissions provides extensive guidance on the Harvard supplemental essays to its clients, and here is an example of how our former admissions officers would recommend approaching the Harvard supplementals:

You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments.

You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics:

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel or living experiences in other countries
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months

Harvard really seeks students who will contribute to campus life, as evidenced by the fact that many Harvard freshmen start clubs and organizations on campus related to their interests and passions.

At Solomon Admissions, we recommend that students outline how they plan to contribute to the Harvard community, both academically through undergraduate research and extra-curricularly.

In the Harvard supplemental essay, make sure to research specific professors you want to conduct undergraduate research with, as well as specific classes you want to take and clubs you would like to participate in.

“Ask not what your college can do for you, ask what you can do for your college.”

Harvard wants to know what you have to offer them (they know what they can offer you and don't need 30,000 applicants repeating what Harvard already knows).

Questions to keep in mind when writing the Harvard supplemental essay:

  • How will you be a leader on campus?
  • How will you contribute to campus academically?
  • By conducting undergraduate research?
  • By contributing to the intellectual discourse on campus?
  • How will you contribute to the social life on campus?
  • By founding a club?
  • By becoming active in a student group?

"Act as if." Act as if you go there and show them that you fit in perfectly and would contribute to academic life (undergraduate research and intellectual discourse), social life (starting an organization on campus that relates to your high school passions), and most importantly, show them that you have personality and are an interesting person with esoteric hobbies.

For more information about the Harvard University application process, contact us at one of the following: